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Vague NFLPA text message to players about substance-abuse testing sparked a panic

Mike Florio and Chris Simms discuss the report surrounding Justin Fields' epilepsy and why it was made public a week before the 2021 NFL Draft.

Before the 2020 CBA, the NFL’s annual testing window for marijuana and other drugs covered by the substance abuse policy opened on April 20. (Yes, 4/20.) Under the 2020 CBA, the window still opens on April 20 for all street drugs other than marijuana.

On April 19, a text message sent by the NFL Players Association to all players created a panic because it didn’t mention the marijuana exception.

“Annual testing for Substances of Abuse (SOAs, aka street drugs) starts tomorrow, 4/20, per the 2020 CBA,” the text message explained. “If you’re at the facility at the time you get a text: You must be tested for substances highlighted in the SOA Policy . . . . If you are not at the facility at the time you get a text: You do not have to go to the facility just to be tested. You will be tested when you return.”

Players who use marijuana became immediately concerned, given that one of the attractions of the new CBA came from the shrinking and the delay of the once-per-year marijuana testing window until the start of training camp until the first preseason game (typically two weeks). Based on the amount of time that it takes to metabolize THC, plenty of players were looking at a potential positive test.

Eventually, the union sent to all agents a memo with the more accurate information. The window for annual testing for all street drugs except marijuana opens on April 20.

Some would ask why it was a big deal, given that players no longer can be suspended for positive tests. It remains an issue because significant fines can still be imposed based on multiple positives. Also, players who test positive typically are subjected to increased testing frequency and treatment plans. Violations of those treatment plans could still result in a suspension.

Bottom line: Players who choose to use marijuana don’t need to take a break until roughly a month before the start of training camp. Then, they need to wait up to two weeks for their annual test to happen. At that point (and assuming they test negative), they’re good to go for nearly another year.